The woman driving the tan Subaru smiled as she passed me in the next lane. Her car had two fiberglass canoes on the roof and fishing poles pressed against the rear window. The bumper sticker, half-covered with mud, proclaimed, "I'd rather be canoeing." Having just spilt coffee on a stack of papers I corrected the night before, all I could think of was, "Me too!" Anyone seeing our two vehicles would immediately know I was heading to work and she was about to have an adventure. Crossing the Wisconsin River on my way to a windowless classroom, I looked longingly down stream.
The traffic light on the far side of the bridge turned red and the obedient line of cars came to a robotic stop. I was trapped with this enticing river on both sides and that nagging bumper sticker in front of me. A trio of duck made a sharp banking turn and landed near a small island that split the river into two channels.
The light turned green, but that simple message continued to taunted me--I'd rather be canoeing. Unfortunately, I couldn't be on the river-I had to teach science. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching science. On most days it's the only thing I would want to do. Today just wasn't one of those days.
When I was younger, before I had a "real" job, I would never pass up a chance to get on the river. Memories flooded my head--running the rapids of the Namekagon, Brule, and Flambeau Rivers, slowly drifting through the cathedral-like elm forests of the Yellow River, climbing the waterfalls on the Potato River, and a childhood spent exploring the polluted Rock River. Today I had to go to work.
What if I could do both? What if I could be on the river AND teach science. I grabbed the nearest piece of paper and furiously began to write (I now had to explain to one of my students why her lab report was covered with coffee stains and my version of shorthand).
What follows is a brief outline of physics topics that could be taught on, or near, a river. Think of it as a River Physics textbook. Understand that this is only a work in progress and there are many gaps, but if it can get me back on the river, while keeping my job, it's worth a shot.
Chapter 1 - Density
Chapter 2 - Nature of matter
Chapter 3 - Newton's Laws
Chapter 4 - Work, Energy, and Power
Chapter 5 - Electricity
Chapter 6 - Waves
Chapter 7 - Sound Waves
Chapter 8 -Properties of Light
Chapter 9 - Motion of Rigid Bodies
Chapter 10 - Mechanical Properties of Matter
Clearly this is not a complete list. It will take much more than this to convince the school board to let me sell the desks and buy Pfd's. If you have suggestions as to how physics could be taught on a river, please email them to me and I will add them to the list. I think it may be time for a new bumper sticker. This one will say, "I'd rather be teaching on the river!"
for Global Environmental Education